The Predator has become one of our most popular movie monsters in the last three-and-a-half decades, despite the fact that many would agree that only the first film is really worth your time. Several sequels and spinoffs have taken the franchise in different directions trying to find new life for the alien hunter. Now the seventh Predator movie is here – director Dan Trachtenberg’s appropriately titled Prey – and it has found a winning formula for the return of the Predator… by not making a movie about the Predator.
Prey is set in the early 18th century, hundreds of years before the events of the previous films. In the great plains of North America we are introduced to Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman who wants to become a hunter for her tribe like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), despite the fact that only men are expected to take that path. When the young braves of the tribe go hunting for a mountain lion that has injured one of the villagers, Naru realizes before anybody else that there is something else out in the forest that is stalking them.
Prey focuses on the core strengths of the Predator franchise and lets them shine like no movie since the original.
The idea of a technologically advanced Predator taking on Native Americans with primitive weapons seems like an almost comical matchup on paper, but that’s by design. The Native Americans are obviously outmatched against the Predator when it comes to available weapons – of course they are.
But the Predator franchise has never been about having the bigger gun; it’s been about humanity’s resilience combined with a person’s ability to be smarter, not stronger, than they’re opponent. By reducing the hunted to even simpler weapons, this core idea comes through even clearer. It’s worth noting that the Predator is also working with somewhat simpler weapons – perhaps because even the Predator’s weaponry is less evolved hundreds of years in the past, or perhaps because the hunt will be too easy otherwise. It’s not really important.
The decision to name the movie Prey rather than something with Predator in the title may seem like a simple thing, but it gets to the core of what separates this movie from the films that came before, and what ultimately makes it superior to most if not all of them is that it’s really about the people being hunted. While all Predator films follow a human character or characters who are fighting the titular hunter, the focus is on the fight, not on the characters.
Prey is ultimately a coming of age story about a young woman trying to find her place in her tribe and earn the respect of her people. It just so happens that she’ll need to survive the galaxy’s most brutal killing machine in order to do it. Character arcs aren’t necessarily what we come to Predator movies to see, but Naru has one, and it makes everything that comes with it more compelling.
Amber Midthunder plays a compelling lead and a fantastic action hero.
Amber Midthunder isn’t a complete newcomer in the industry, but this will likely be the first time that many viewers will be introduced to her. Prey is her movie, and she carries the story admirably. While Naru is not incapable as a warrior, it’s watching her evolve as a person that allows her to evolve as a fighter. The action is some of the best storytelling in the film.
Those who come to Prey looking for big action sequences or brutal Predator kills will not be disappointed either. The Hulu movie is just as violent as any fan of the Predator franchise is going to want. It’s a visceral affair as the Predator tears through any human or animal target that it comes across. The action is rock solid, and all of it is only enhanced by the tension that is built up before it fully escalates.
Dan Trachtenberg, the director of 10 Cloverfield Lane, has previously shown to be a talent with tension, and, as with his previous feature film, he has come into an existing franchise, figured out what the absolute core of it is, and then served that up to the audience.
Director Dan Tractenberg’s ability to create tension is what makes the action truly soar.
The decision to put Prey on Hulu rather than make it a theatrical release is likely going to suggest the film has a second class status/reputation, but it’s completely undeserved. The latest Predator franchise installment belongs alongside its big screen counterparts. It’s a beautifully filmed movie, with the natural world untouched by colonialism becoming a major element of the story itself that would have looked perfect on the big screen. While it harkens back to the jungles of the original Predator, the environment in that original movie was one of the impediments Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hero had to overcome. Here, it’s one of the weapons the hero has to use against the Predator.
There is one major benefit from making Prey available on a streaming service, however: the film is available to be viewed entirely in the Comanche language, which is a nice option that creates a different viewing experience. The standard version has the Comanche speaking English, and all other languages heard go unsubtitled – allowing the viewer to still live inside Naru’s head.
Prey being called the best Predator movie is not something with which everybody will agree, but the movie is almost certainly the perfect essence of a Predator movie. There is nothing here that isn’t necessary, and nothing is wasted.
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